What an exciting weekend of tennis this was! I wish I had decided months ago that I was not going to Flushing Meadows this year because then I would have gone to Cincinnati instead. I am making the commitment from now that next year is going to find me at the new and improved Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio. Sure I’ve been scared off in the past by the thought of being baked by the sweltering sun. But is there another tournament that is more perfectly timed as the last significant warm-up event leading into the US Open?
First up I need to give big props to Mardy Fish for an amazing week of tennis. Back to back victories against Verdasco, Gasquet, and Andy Murray are nothing to sneeze at. But I have to admit that I kinda got sick of hearing the commentators repeat that Mardy has lost 30 pounds since September 2009. Really people, it takes more than weight loss to make such a significant improvement in form. Mardy has done way more than lose 30 pounds. He has also lost his diffidence, his fear, his lack of focus, and the lack of confidence in himself that made him remain for years an also-ran in the shadows of the more dominant Roddick.
Indeed, it makes more sense to talk about what Fish has gained than about what he has lost. He has gained a complete repertoire. He plays tennis with the kind of versatility that makes me smile. This is no baseline basher hoping that pulling his opponents wide will do the trick. Mardy serves big, which is a given for any top player. But he backs it up with a skillful and varied repertoire of volleys, popping backhands, and lethal running crosscourt forehands. His shot selection is excellent. Dude is playing intelligent tennis.
But what to say of Andy Roddick and his continued boorish behavior? Ever since Roddick picked up with Larry Stefanki, I have been hoping for great things from him. After all, Stefanki has a reputation of being a king-maker, having over the years brought a succession of tennis players to # 1. And indeed, I credited him with Roddick’s incredible performance against Federer at Wimbledon two years ago. Under Stefanki’s guidance, I figured that Roddick would mature, would improve his ability to handle stress, and would grow some class.
How wrong was I? Let me count the ways. First there was his boorish behavior during the quarterfinals match against Robin Söderling. OK granted that the Chair had no business overturning a line call in the far court. Fair enough. But that’s why the challenge system now exists. So when Roddick proceeded to belabor the point, and when he got angry in a second incident in which he was clearly wrong and demanded that the Chair explain to him in detail how long it should take for someone to challenge a call, I wanted to reach through the TV screen and slap him across the face. If I could, I would have told him, “Stop behaving like a f**king baby!” Instead I kept saying, “What a complete jackass!”
But nothing prepared me for Roddick’s behavior during the third set of his match against Mardy Fish yesterday. Any other player putting on such a dismal performance would have been fined for lack of effort. I found myself feeling ashamed for Roddick as well as for poor Stefanki who had to sit there and look on at this churlish, childish jackass as he publicly melted down. I don’t mean to take anything away from Mardy Fish who played great tennis to destroy Roddick, almost feeding him a bagel in the third. But Roddick had also clearly stopped making his best effort from the minute Mardy won that second set.
Which brings me to Federer and my thrill over his victory today. Of course I am happy that he has gained 1000 ranking points which brings him closer to Nadal’s astonishing lead. And don’t doubt for a minute that Federer is aware of this. It’s amazing the ease with which he can spout his own statistics during an interview. For instance, after Federer dismissed Bhagdatis, one of the commentators asked him about his preparations for playing Madry Fish. Federer proceeded to rattle off statistics from a match some years ago in which he had made Fish swallow a bagel. I loved it. I love the way the Fed plays head games with his opponents. He seems to have such an intuitive understanding of the psychology of the sport.
After Roger made it to the finals of the Tennis Masters in Toronto last week, I ran across a tweet by Feliciano Lopez. It said, simply, “I guess Rogelio is back”. At the time I thought of using these words as a title for the entry I knew I would inevitably be writing about Federer and his return to top form.
And then today Lopez happened once again to capture perfectly how I was feeling. He tweeted: “Federer vuleve a recuperar la confianza cuando algunos le daban x muerto. lleva final y campeon, apuesto x el en el Open”. Yes indeed, Federer seems to have regained his confidence when others had given him up for dead. 17 Masters titles. 63 ATP titles. And perhaps another Slam win at US Open. How many times must we learn never to count him out?